More Hidden Gems Along Maine’s Mid-Coast

 Posted by on September 29, 2013  Comments Off
Sep 292013
 

Maine’s intricate coastline is filled with hundreds of small harbors, inlets, pocket beaches and rocky cliffs that were formed by powerful glacial activity at the end of the last ice age.  First, rising sea levels flooded the coastlands and carved out bays and islands where there were once valleys and mountain tops.  Following this period, the land mass rose slightly, resulting in today’s rocky, hard to navigate and wild coastline.  Today, the mid coast area between Portland and Bar Harbor, is home to a few major cities such as Freeport, Bath and Rockland but still houses many small villages and isolated landmarks.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Bristol. ME

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Bristol, ME

During our recent visit to Maine’s mid-coast we veered off Route 1 to explore Pemaquid Point in Bristol.  Just 20 minutes down Route 30 we found Bristol’s Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park, home to a 180 year old lighthouse that is still owned by the Coast Guard. The adjacent keeper’s home is used as a  volunteer-maintained Fisherman’s Museum.  We arrived as a an outdoor wedding ceremony was ending and one look at the amazing views of  pounding surf and surrounding rocky ledges told us why the bride and groom has selected this truly special location.  If you visit, plan to take the time to scamper down the rocks to the water’s edge.  The power of the surf is breathtaking.

Rocky ledge and surf at Pemaquid Point

Rocky ledge and surf at Pemaquid Point

From Bristol, we returned to Route 1 briefly before making another side trip to Reid State Park at the Southern tip of Georgetown Island.  The well maintained park provides access to two sandy beaches, rocky ledges, boardwalks  and protected inlets.  It is an expansive park with a bathhouse, lifeguards,  a snack bar, picnic tables and plenty of parking.  Of course, it is Maine, so don’t be surprised if the water temperatures barely make it above 60 degrees even in August!  Several miles of trails lead over the sand dunes and salt marshes on boardwalks and through the woods beyond the beach but be warned, as the sun goes down the flies come out and they are voracious!

Beach at Reid State Park

Beach at Reid State Park

Just down the road from Reid State Park we also discovered an idyllic country inn, the Grey Havens, that is perfect for a grown-ups getaway!  With a full dining room and bar and exquisite views from the rocking chairs on the front porch, mom and dad were sad that we only had one night the enjoy the inn’s hospitality.

Grey Havens, Georgetown ME

Grey Havens, Georgetown ME

The Grey Havens is about as romantic a destination as you will find along Maine’s quiet mid-coast and we highly recommend it if parents are looking to rekindle the romance without kids in tow.  The views from the turret rooms and the front porch are worth the trip all on their own. (Note we paid for our stay out of pocket and the owners didn’t know we’d give them a mention here!)

View of the sunset from rocking chair porch at Grey Havens

View of the sunset from the rocking chairs on the porch at Grey Havens

Maine’s mid-coast is home to many other quiet and romantic inlets, inns and lighthouses, we just wish we had been able to take the time to explore them all.  If you know of a special place to visit on the coast of Maine, leave a comment and let us know about it.


Best Things to do in Owls Head, Maine – Rain or Shine!

 Posted by on September 8, 2013  Comments Off
Sep 082013
 

With a population of just over 1,500,  tiny Owls Head  is a must see destination on any family vacation to Maine’s Mid-Coast.  Just 2 miles south of Rockland, ME, via Route 73,  Owls Head is home to the Owls Head Transportation Museum, a thriving non-profit educational organization founded in 1974. The museum is active in the collection and preservation of many early-era aircraft, cars, bikes, and trucks.  Many of the 150 plus items in the collection are operational.  The expansive indoor space makes the Museum a great rainy day destination.

Check out the classic cars at the Owls Head Transportation Museum

Check out the classic cars at the Owls Head Transportation Museum

The Aircraft Collection contains replicas and originals representing the first century of flight. The auto exhibits span the late 19th Century and early 20th century including a recently refurbished 1908 Stanley K Semi-Racer and a 1935 Stout Scarab, one of only six ever made.   We particularly enjoyed the MGs and Microcars special exhibit.  The Museum also holds classic car auctions and a series of special family-friendly events during the summer.

Lobster Traps at Owls Head Harbor

Lobster Traps at Owls Head Harbor

After visiting the Museum, be sure to take the time to visit the town’s often painted harbor as well as the quaint Post Office and the Owls Head General Store , which was voted Maine’s Best Burger by the Food Network and Best of the Best Burger by Village Soup, and the readers of Down East Magazine for two years in a row!

Owls Head Post Office is a Maine classic

Owls Head Post Office is a Maine classic

Also be sure to stop by Owls Head Light and the surrounding Owls Head State Park.  The  30-foot tall lighthouse is managed by the Friends of Rockland Harbor, but owned by the Coast Guard.  It is not usually open to the public, although the day we visited the steep steps leading up to the lighthouse were open and provided access to a beautiful view from 100 feet above West Penobscot Bay, near the mouth of Rockland Harbor.  The former lighthouse keeper’s house is used as a gift store and educational center.

Owls Head Light

Owls Head Light

The lighthouse is rumored to be haunted and many have reported seeing unexpected footprints after rain or snow – we didn’t see any on our visit although it had rained earlier in the day.

The rocky beach at Owls Head State Park

The rocky beach at Owls Head State Park

The land surrounding the Owls Head Light is protected as part of Owls Head State Park which also includes a small classic rocky Maine beach, a  short walking trail, and picnic tables near the beach.

Plan the better part of a day to see everything Owls Head has to offer.  This is a great destination for family vacations with kids of all ages since there is something for everyone in this delightful small town hidden away on Maine’s Mid-Coast.


Fun Things to Do on a Vacation Visit to Rockland, Maine

 Posted by on August 29, 2013  Comments Off
Aug 292013
 

Rockland, Maine is a delightful vacation destination on Maine’s mid-coast that is the process of being transformed from a fishing and shipbuilding hub to a family friendly tourist hot spot.  Just a block away from the waterfront, warehouses and commercial buildings are being turned into boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.  The highly regarded Farnsworth Art Museum occupies several buildings in the downtown.  The Museum features American art and is home to the one of the country’s  largest collections of the paintings of the Wyeth family.  Daily ferries run to Vinalhaven and to North Haven from the Maine State Ferry Terminal located on the Rockland waterfront.

Grey seals and lobster boats are common sights in Rockland Harbor

Grey seals and lobster boats are common sights in Rockland Harbor

We were in town to take a windjammer cruise aboard the Schooner Isaac Evans, but arrived a day early to check out the scene.  We were delighted by the quality of accommodations, food and things to do.  The high point of our land-based explorations was taking a walk on the 8/10th of a mile long Rockland Harbor Breakwater that connects the mainland and Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light.

The Rockland Breakwater extends 4,300 feet into the harbor

The Rockland Breakwater extends 4,300 feet into the harbor

The Rockland Breakwater was built with over 700,000 tons of granite at a cost of $750,000 and took 18 years to complete between 1881-1899.  It was built because  several nor’easter storms in the 1850s caused a great deal  of damage to the inner parts of Rockland Harbor and the city needed to offer a more sheltered environment to encourage growth of its fishing and shipping businesses.  The breakwater is made of enormous granite blocks that were cut precisely to fit and were placed end-to-end in water up to 70 feet deep. Depending on the tide and weather the waves may be washing over the breakwater, or lapping placidly at the sides 20 feet below the top.

Watch your step when hiking the Rockland Breakwater

Watch your step when hiking the Rockland Breakwater

It took us about 25 minutes each way as the gaps between the granite blocks are wide enough that it is wise to pay attention where you are walking to avoid tripping.  For kids, tweens and teens it offers a fun activity and a good way to burn off some energy.  If they go faster than mom and dad they can chill on the rocks that surround the lighthouse before heading back.  We are told it is also a good place to fish although we didn’t see anyone catch anything the day we were there.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

We stayed one night at the Ledges by the Bay motel, which is located in the town of Rockport just over the border from Rockland — about a 5 minute drive to downtown.  It was clean and our oceanfront facing room had a lovely view.  Each room has a fridge and the motel offers a free continental breakfast.   Upscale travelers and golfers might enjoy the Samoset Resort in Rockland, the expansive grounds looked very inviting.  We also had time to enjoy a couple of meals in town.  We particularly enjoyed the Fog Bar and Café for dinner.  It offers very creative and tasty American cuisine.   For breakfast don’t miss the Home Kitchen Café .  The ice cream and gelato at Lulu’s are amazing.

Don't miss the ice cream and gelato's at Lulu's in Rockland, Maine

Don’t miss the ice cream and gelato’s at Lulu’s in Rockland, Maine

Rockland and nearby Owls Head were fun stops on our mid-coast tour, we could definitely have stayed longer.  We paid our own way and none of the businesses list above knew they would get mentioned here.  If you visit let us know what you think.


Aug 222013
 

With roughly 3,500 miles of tidal coastline, Maine has long been home to large fishing and commercial shipping fleets.  The Bath Ironworks , founded in 1884, continues to build some of the world’s most advanced naval vessels.   In today’s harbors, pleasure craft dock side by side with windjammers and lobster boats.  The state’s dozens of harbors have long been guarded by scores of lighthouses since Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park was activated in 1791 on the orders of George Washington.  Today, 63 lighthouses survive.  Some have been decommissioned and the rest have been automated with the keeper’s houses and grounds often donated or leased to local governments or non-profits.

Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park is Maine's oldest lighthouse.

Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park is Maine’s oldest lighthouse.

During our recent visit to Maine’s mid-coast we had the opportunity to visit four of these beautiful buildings, and appreciated how much comfort they must have brought to mariners seeing their lights shining out to sea on rainy and foggy nights.  Each lighthouse has its own history and story.  If you plan a family vacation with kids, teens or tweens be sure to plan in visits to one or more of these living pieces of history.   Portland Head Light is an easy daytrip from Boston or a nice stop to break up a ride north.  The grounds are expansive with plenty of picnic tables but bring your own lunch as there is no snack bar.  History buffs will enjoy visiting the historic fort and naval defense fortifications that were active until 1963.

Further North, Pemaquid Point Lighthouse erected in 1835 and the keeper’s house built in 1937, overlook  a spectacular rocky shoreline that is open to the public and maintained as part of the Town of Bristol’s Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park.  While the lighthouse itself is still owned by the Coast Guard, the keeper’s house now houses the fascinating volunteer-run Fishermen’s Museum.  When the lighthouse is open there is often a line to walk the stairs to the top of the tower.  Be sure to spend some time scrambling on the rocks as well.

Pemaquid Point Light House

Pemaquid Point Light House

Farther north the towns of Owls Head and Rockland offer more lighthouse viewing activities.  The Owls Head light is maintained by the Friends of Rockland Harbor Lights which leases it from the US Coast Guard.   The  surrounding land, including a classic rocky pocket beach, is open to the public as part of Owls Head State Park.   Built in 1825 it guards the entrance of Rockland Harbor on Western Penobscot Bay.    This lighthouse holds many stories — there are rumored to be not one, but two resident ghosts.  Many tales have been told about mysterious footprints appearing after rain or snow.  We didn’t see any during our visit however, although it had rained earlier in the day.

Owls Head Light

Owls Head Light

On the other side of Rockland Harbor, an almost mile long breakwater extends into the Harbor.  Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse sits at the end of the breakwater.  The light is still active and maintained by the US Coast Guard, however, the keeper’s house is boarded up and looks pretty forlorn.  We enjoyed the hiking the breakwater and then got views from the water from aboard the Schooner Isaac Evans during our windjammer.  The Friends of Rockland Lights have an ongoing fundraising and renovation program underway to restore the site to its former glory.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

No trip to Maine is really complete without visiting a lighthouse.  We encourage your family to visit as many as you can!


Vermont’s Shelburne Museum Circus Exhibit

 Posted by on June 7, 2010  Comments Off
Jun 072010
 

  

Vintage 1871 lighthouse was dismantled and moved from its original site on Lake Champlain then re-assembled at Shelburne Museum

Vintage 1871 lighthouse was dismantled and moved from its original site on Lake Champlain then re-assembled at Shelburne Museum

   We have visited Vermont’s Shelburne Museum several times with our kids as they have been growing up.  Each age finds something different to enjoy at this sprawling, eclectic museum of New England and Americana. 

      Located on the shores of Lake Champlain, in Shelburne Vermont next door to Burlington, the 45 acre, 39 building complex could take days to explore, but we usually focus on a couple of exhibits and spend some quality time.  Regardless of whether we opt to visit the restored 220-foot National Landmark steamboat Ticonderoga or one of the many historic buildings that have been relocated to the Museum from all over New England, we always find time for the Circus Building.

We can spend hours at the Circus Building

We can spend hours at the Circus Building

          This summer, one of the featured exhibits is  “Circus Day in America” which will provide the museum an opportunity to feature its truly amazing circus collection which includes  the hand-carved miniature Arnold Circus Parade, which stretches nearly the full length of the museum’s horseshoe shaped Circus building’s 518 feet. This building also contains theintricate, 3,500-piece miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. Circus. 

The Circus is coming to town at Shelburne Museum

The Circus is coming to town at Shelburne Museum

     This summer’s exhibit includes a collection of original vintage circus posters dating back to the 1830s.  They had originally been posted on a house, but were later covered with newer layers of siding and were only re-discovered in 1991 when the house was being renovated.  They were removed boards and all to the Museum. 

Shelburne Museum's Circus Building houses thousands of circus minatures

Shelburne Museum's Circus Building houses thousands of circus minatures

    We can spend hours slowly walking the length of the circus building and being amazed at the workmanship and detail shown in these models.    Whether you are visiting the Burlington, Vermont area with toddlers or college bound teens, Shelburne Museum will have something going on to hold their interest.  Its a day well spent exploring.
Burlington Things To Do

Mar 072010
 

     The Sandy Hook unit of the Gateway National Seashore represents the most northern reach of the Jersey Shore.  The six mile barrier beach sand spit extends into lower New York Bay, south of Manhattan.  The southern end of Sandy Hook hosts a number of fishing and bathing beaches while the northern end is home to a range of  historic military sites.  Whether you are looking for swimming, history, nature or biking you can find it on Sandy Hook.  And, the sunsets are pretty awesome too!

Sandy Hook Beach

The beach at Sandy Hook, courtesy National Park Service

      Most people access the Hook via car, although shuttle buses do connect the park to the Seastreak high speed NY-NJ ferry in the summer.  Lifeguards oversee the main ocean swimming beaches from 10 am to 6 pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day.   Be advised that Gunnison Beach is widely known as a “clothing optional” beach, but is well marked so you can avoid it easily.  Surf fishing is popular and permitted from any of the beaches after the life guards have left.  

Surf Fishing at Sandy Hook

Surf Fishing at Sandy Hook, courtesy National Park Service

     Beyond the surf, if your teen or tween is interested in military history, the Park contains the19th century Fort Hancock National Historic site and the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, which was a major army weapons testing location from 1874-191.   Check out the 30-foot thick walls of  Battery Potter.  This fortress was built to house a disappearing gun battery powered by a steam hydraulic lift system.  It operated from 1893-1906 but was rapidly rendered obsolete by faster firing gun technology.  Alas, the guns themselves are no longer there. 

     Many of the officer homes and other historic buildings at Fort Hancock remain in an unmaintained state, although a Museum and a restored home on Officer Row are open on weekends. 

Battery Potter at Sandy Hook Fort Hancock

Battery Potter at Sandy Hook Fort Hancock, courtesy National Park Service

     Sandy Hook is also the site of one of  America’s oldest lighthouses.  The lighthouse keepers quarters were restored and reopened in 2006.  The non-profit New Jersey Lighthouse Society provides weekend tours.  If you are really into lighthouses check out the Twin Lights overlooking Sandy Hook from the nearby cliffs of Highlands after you leave the Park. 

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Sandy Hook Lighthouse, courtesy National Park Service

      A 5-mile long multi-use bike and walking path runs from the Park Entrance to Fort Hancock and is currently being extended to loop around the Fort.  Bring your bikes or rollerblades if you want some exercise.  More into watercraft?   Non-motorized car top boats, including kayaks, windsurfers and kite-boards can be launched from ocean facing Beach Area C and Horseshoe Cove on the bay side.  There are no rentals available so bring your own gear.  Hiking trails are also available beginning at the Visitor Center and extending the length of the Hook.  Bird watchers favor Plum Island, the Spermaceti Cove boardwalk, the Horseshoe Cove salt marsh, North Pond and the fields at Fort Hancock

Biking Sandy Hook

Brings your bikes or rollerblades to Sandy Hook, courtesy National Park Service

      The Park is very popular and parking lots generally fill by 10 or 11 am on summer weekends, although access to the historic areas remains open when the beach lots are full.  There is no charge to use the beach but there is a $10 per car  parking fee.  If you are going for the beach we recommend a weekday visit to avoid the crowds.  If you want to see the historic sites most of them have limited hours and may only be available on the weekends so check ahead by calling or visiting the Park web site.  Food concessions and bath houses are available at the major beaches but lines can get long.  The Sea Gull’s Nest at the D beach offers casual open air dining overlooking the water from noon until sunset.  Of course, you can also bring a cooler and eat on the beach or take advantage of the picnic tables and grill areas.

Want to Learn More About Great Activities for Teens and Tweens at the Jersey Shore?

     This is one in a series on Top 10 activities for family vacations with teens and tweens on the Jersey Shore.  Click the link to see the full list or visit our Travel with Teens and Tweens  Jersey Shore archives to see the posts in chronological order.
Atlantic Highlands Things To Do

Twin Lights Overlook Sandy Hook

 Posted by on February 14, 2010  Comments Off
Feb 142010
 

     The  Jersey Shore is home to a number of light houses from Cape May to the south to the Twin Lights of the Navesink overlooking Sandy Hook Gateway National Seashore at the Northern tip.  The Twin Lights have protected the coast since 1828 and the current lighthouse was built in 1862.  Decommissioned in 1949, the Twin Lights are maintained by private donations today.  The lighthouse is worth a stop for both the sweeping views of Sandy Hook, and New York Harbor beyond, as well as for the history and architecture.

Twin Lights Towers over Sandy Hook

Twin Lights watches over Sandy Hook

     We have visited the Twin Lights several times, and even as teens and tweens our kids enjoy climbing to the top of the North Tower to take in the views more than 200 feet below.  They are impressed by the enormous Fresnel Lens that was capable of producing light that could be seen 22 miles out to sea.  The lens resembles a glass beehive and was an incredible innovation when it was imported from France and installed in 1841.  It rotated on a 700 pound clock work type mechanism that had to be wound by hand every 6 hours. Over the years other types of lights were installed in the two towers as the technology evolved.

     Sailors reported seeing the glow 70 miles out to sea and its beam helped many boats navigate the harbor, including ships full of immigrants heading to Ellis Island.  Several museum exhibits provide glimpses of the life of lighthouse keepers a hundred years ago.  The lighthouse was also home to one of Marconi’s earliest telegraph stations that was used to communicate results from the America’s Cup races held off the coast of Sandy Hook in 1899. 

Sandy Hook Gateway National Seashore

View of Sandy Hook Gateway National Seashore from Twin Lights

     The grounds outside the Twin Lights building provide spectacular views of the coast.  Our kids are always intrigued by what is called the Mystery Cannon.  A 17th century 12 pound ship’s cannon is displayed.  It was found buried on the grounds when work was being done in the 1840s.  It is often called a pirate’s gun, but no proof for that claim exists. You’ll have to make your own decision about its source when you visit.

     The Twin Lights are worth the stop if you are planning to visit Sandy Hook and other areas of Monmouth County.  And of course, for those interested in light houses it is a must do.

     This is one in a series on Top 10 activities for family vacations with teens and tweens on the Jersey Shore.  Click the link to see the full list or visit our Travel with Teens and Tweens Jersey Shore archives see the posts in chronological order.